"What does it mean, then, when a bishop (or bishops) draws a line in the sand, only to have it washed away beneath a tide of Catholic expert analysis or the consciences of faithful Catholics or other recognized Catholic leaders who come to different conclusions?"
“Once upon a time nuns, no matter what they thought of their bishops, would probably be willing to go along” with pronouncements even if they disagreed with them, said Margaret Steinfels, codirector of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University in New York. At least, she said, “they would not go public on these matters. And now, they’re willing to.”
Keehan, on the health care debate, “is absolutely right, and I suspect she has a vast number of Catholics agreeing with her,” Steinfels told NCR in an interview.
Different kinds of authority
That debate and the one surrounding the hospital controversy in Phoenix demonstrate “the fact that there are many different kinds of authority or credibility,” she said. “If the bishop is merely asserting a juridical authority here, claiming that church teaching has been violated, Sr. McBride has all sorts of other kinds of authority” validating her view, said Steinfels. “She has the opinion of the medical professionals who say this was necessary to save the life of the mother.”
The pregnant mother of four who was dying also brought an authority to the situation, she said. “A lot of people,” said Steinfels, “think that bishops haven’t the foggiest idea of what it means to be pregnant, or to be pregnant and sick, or to be pregnant and dying. I’m not opposed to juridical authority. After all, we depend on it in many ways, either in the state or in the church.” But, she said, people today weigh against juridical authority “many other types of authority or ideas about what should have happened, and the bishop’s authority has been found wanting.”
Such open debates and disagreements, she said, might signal a crisis of authority, “but I think what we’re seeing is the evolution of an adult church.”
Bridget Mary's Reflection:
Yes, I do believe that Margaret Steinfels has it right. Nuns, like Sister Carol Keehan of Catholic Health Care West, speak up for patient's rights, including pregnant women's rights to life in situations when that life is threatened and can be saved. Nuns are no longer afraid of incurring the wrath of the bishops or the Vatican for that matter. (Read about the backfire of Vatican's investigations of nuns. Hint, U.S. Catholics supported the good Sisters and stopped writing checks.)
As the article states bishops have no idea what it means to be pregnant and sick or pregnant and dying. Neither does anyone who has not been pregnant. In the Phoenix case where a pregnant woman was facing death, the ethics board made a decision to save her life. The Bishop of Phoenix excommunicated Sr. McBride, the nun who was on this ethics board, for participating in this decision . Later, he removed St. Joseph's official status as a "Catholic" hospital. In the battle of "authorities", the bishop represents one authority, but there are other authorities that must be heard- in this case the medical professionals and the pregnant woman. I agree that we are witnessing a transformation of consciousness that points to adults making moral decisions according to the principles of the Gospel and the wisdom of the lived experience of their faith. It appears that the majority of Catholics agreed with the ethics board and not the Bishop of Phoenix in this tragic case. St. Joseph's Hospital continues to receive public support from the people for their decision not to cede to the authority of the bishop. The irony is that now St. Joseph's Hospital, although no longer officially recognized as a "Catholic" hospital has become truly "catholic" because the community of faith has affirmed its compassionate care and courageous stance to speak truth to power and protect life, including pregnant women's lives. This is a victory for the common sense branch of the Roman Catholic Church-- the people of God, who make ethical decisions all the time that reflect Jesus' vision in the Gospels in their daily lives. (See link to article below)
"Earth to male Roman Catholic bishops", listen to the voice of God speaking through the people of God including women! We are witnessing the full equality of women in our times and it is about time!
Bridget Mary Meehan, RCWP